And a link to Wales Online, interviews at the London Red Carpet
Dazed Digital with Richard, excerpts
DD: And you could counterbalance that with the rest of the cast, notably Zac Efron…
Richard Linklater: Right, then the next biggest part was of the young man, because we see everything through his eyes. On the one hand you’ve got Christian, and then on the other hand you need a teenager to go toe-to-toe with him and beat him at his own game for a second, because that character could have disappeared – he could have been wallpaper next to Welles, who was one of the biggest personalities of the 20th century. Zac had this leading man charisma, and he’s a real force. He’s a different body type, and a different persona altogether. In the story Orson underestimates him, then he realises that this kid is a step ahead. Well, that’s like Zac. If you ever underestimate him, you’ll realise he’s actually two steps ahead of you too.
DD: Zac’s presence certainly raised a few eyebrows…
Richard Linklater: I’m really excited to see people who really think they know him but have underestimated him. It’s so funny how people judge young actors. Because Zac had that early success, in what he had early success in, it has become a penalty and he’s had to start from way back in his own territory, and that’s just your good and your bad luck in this world.
DD: Congratulations on the soundtrack! I heard it was hand-picked entirely by you?
Richard Linklater: Thank, a lot of it is from my own library, but we worked with some really great people. I mean, working with Jools Holland (musical re-arranger)… what a joy! We were building up to the scene where we were going to do a live performance, and I was just sitting in Jools’s living room while he played piano, going through songs. Listening to him was just was amazing. If you asked me where I had the most fun I had on this whole movie I think that would be it right there!
IFC on the weekend numbers and audience
Richard Linklater's long-delayed "Me And Orson Welles" was met with respectful but largely unenthused, hands-off reviews. Despite that, an opening weekend of $16,200 per screen is no joke for a film that took over a year to straggle to theaters. I was part of the crowd; I'm from Austin, so solidarity with Linklater's work is key. As it happened, the theater was being polled by some diligent firm who gave a very cluttered survey breaking us down as demographics -- age, race, where you heard about the movie. Before the screening, you were invited to contemplate which factor which drove you to the theater, what made you choose (underlined) "this movie": Zac Efron? "The romance"? "Looks different from other movies out"? Perhaps, more modestly, "Richard Linklater, the director?"
The audience, as it turned out, was mostly middle-aged and more interested in seeing a good, proper piece of Oscar bait than either another laid-back Linklater film or a close encounter Efron's dulcet pipes (though my viewing companion spotted six or seven Efron-tweens in the crowd). Though Efron gets to sing a song in his anachronistic Disney Channel-voice, he's mostly kept in the background while Christian McKay's enjoyable Orson Welles impersonation takes center stage. (With a bigger marketing budget, he'd be a nomination lock.)
Even then, though, this is very much a Richard Linklater movie; his personality is stronger than anything on-screen. Like Ang Lee, he always errs on the side of understatement rather than risk overselling a moment, but sometimes too much underplaying is more conspicuous than a hard sell. Linklater likes to watch his Welles talk, but he's just as much of a digressive, charismatic crackpot as any of the usual curious talky Linklater gang.
Linklater's style -- lacking any signature lighting, color schemes or anything, really, besides his basic editorial rhythms -- can also be helpfully marketed as anonymously competent. If "Me And Orson Welles" can sustain its momentum past a stronger-than-expected opening weekend, it could be at least in part because of the presumable anonymity of Linklater's technique; you can't cover up Wes Anderson's weirdness without refusing to release any stills or proper trailers. At a time when Linklater's having trouble getting financing, that could be an asset.
Also, this woman, Eddi Reader, was apparently a singer in the film and she made a funny blog entry about going to the premiere... read it here.
When Simon Callow set out to write a biography of Orson Welles, he found his subject too big for one volume. Similarly, it’s unlikely there’ll ever be a full biopic because, like Citizen Kane, Harry Lime and Mr. Arkadin, Welles showed many faces to many people over the years. However, a growing library of Welles-themed films exists, and soon it’ll be possible to programme a month-long season covering his life.
Richard Linklater’s film of Robert Kaplow’s novel, which somehow makes the Isle Of Man convincing as the Isle Of Manhattan, sits comfortably between Cradle Will Rock (set just before it), the TV movie The Night That Panicked America (about the 1938 War Of The Worlds broadcast), and RKO 281 (about Citizen Kane). Linklater scores over other Welles films in one crucial area: Christian McKay is the best screen Welles stand-in to date, easily raising the bar set by Angus Macfadyen, Liev Schreiber, Vincent d’Onofrio and Danny Huston. McKay uncannily resembles the young Welles and catches the familiar mannerisms, but more importantly he inhabits the role of a man who was always ‘on’: radiating the charisma that made people stick with him no matter how big a bastard he could be, stopping every so often to improvise lyrical speeches, weaselling out of crises by leaving human wreckage in his wake, clowning like a baby desperate to win over the grown-ups, and pulling great art out of himself like a conjurer producing a rabbit from a hat.
Around Orson Welles, the film weaves a conventional but nicely turned tale about a youth’s first steps in theatre, with Zac Efron creditably turning down his natural star quality to seem like a hesitant beginner and striking sparks off leading ladies Claire Danes and Zoe Kazan. Like Cradle Will Rock, it’s also a careful account of a legendary stage production, a ‘fascist Caesar’ with Mussolini uniforms and Nuremberg lighting. Welles’ Mercury Theatre was packed with big characters, and this is one of Linklater’s large cast films — with heroic work from Ben Chaplin, Leo Bill and Kelly Reilly as real actors (it’s touching that Bill does such a dead-on impersonation of the scarcely well-remembered Norman Lloyd), and more terrific support from Eddie Marsan as long-suffering producer John Houseman.
Verdict: A really satisfying backstage drama, this is an exhilarating tour around a man whose talent was almost as big as his ego.
Four out of five stars
Monsters and Critics
Richard Linklater become one of the undisputed heroes of the indie circuit with his award winning youth based films shot on ultra low budgets (“Slacker,” “Fast Food Nation,” Oscar nominated “Before Sunset”). In this film he has stayed with the tried and true formula of viewing the world through young eyes but has strayed far away from the conventional indie formula with a 1930’s setting rich with costumery and set design. The end result is a fun film that harkens back to the Neil Simon coming-of-age trips down memory lane.
The film is based on the novel by Robert Kaplow about how young Richard Samuels won the chance of a lifetime to be in the hottest place at the hottest time and learned what Broadway was all about.
Emerging actor Zac Efron (“Hairspray”) plays 17 year old Samuels in the roaring era of 1937 New York City. The Nazis are far away, WWII is just a speculation and the Broadway theatre scene is dancing on the grave of prohibition. Richard is forced to study Shakespeare in school but what he wants to do is live Shakespeare on the stage. Hanging out on 41st Street he runs head-on into one the brightest of the new stars in the Theatre District, Orson Welles. Welles’ revolutionary modernization of Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar” is opening in one week at his new Mercury Theatre and the stakes are high for Welles. Young Richard lucks his way into a minor role with the bluff and bluster that will come to signify the Great White Way.
Newcomer Christian McKay has the lead role of Orson Welles in the film, a character that is as much defined by the villainy of the iconic radio and film genius as by his achievements. Mckay does a great job, he belts out his lines like a Shakespearean actor and comes as close to Welles as Welles was willing to come to himself. McKay bagged a nomination for Most Promising Newcomer at the British Independent Film Awards for his leading role in this film and the nod is well deserved.
The love interest in the film has nothing to do with Welles, indeed he is depicted as a man so obsessed with his work so as to be incapable of love. The romance is between the striking beautiful Claire Danes (“The Hours” and "My So-Called Life" on TV) who plays office assistant Sonja Jones. It is a credit to Linklater that Efron and Danes develop a marvelous screen chemistry that becomes as beautiful as it is nostalgic. By the way, there is considerable nostalgia in this film---if you don’t have a touch of yearning for the good old days, you might just as well give the movie a miss.
Amongst the great supporting actors it is hard to know where to start; they all do their jobs so well. The stand-out is Eddie Marsan, winner of two British Independent Film Awards for Best Supporting actor for his work as the devilishly freaked out driving instructor in “Happy-Go-Lucky” and for the angry and confused Reg in the political pot-boiler “Vera Drake.” He plays producer John Houseman with style and aptly reproduces the love-hate relationship that exists between most directors and producers and probably existed between Houseman and Welles as well. It is Marsan’s panicky businessman pleas to Welles that creates much of the tension in the film. Both men had their fortunes and their careers at stake in a risky production.
Zoe Kazan and James Tupper provide stand-out supporting work as well, with Kazan playing the girl next door who eventually shows the true heart of the city.
Production designer Laurence Dorman, costume designer Nic Ede and hair and make-up designer Fae Hammond also deserve a substantial share of the credit for pulling this light-weight drama off successfully. They are the people who take the film viewers out of the London shooting locations and place them squarely on the feverish streets and inside the peeling walls of the inwardly squalid and outwardly glamorous stage scene. The interior building shots in the museums, apartments and the dirty and faded back-stage areas of new York are shown is fascinating realism. A fun film that also reveals a little more truth about a great man.
Three and a half stars out of five
Blog: Tony Medley
Despite what sounds like an ungrammatical title (it could be the end of the sentence, “This is the story of me and Orson Welles”), I’ve seen very few movies that I wanted to continue, but I would have been serenely happy had this kept going for another hour, it was so entertaining. This is a fictionalized account of the final week in preparation of Orson Welles’ (Christian McKay) 1937 truncated production of Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar” by the fledgling Mercury Theater. Director Richard Linklater has taken a brilliant screenplay by Holly Gent Palmo and Vince Palmo (from Robert Kaplo’s novel) and produced a scintillating recreation of a bygone era and a fascinating portrait of a man whose reputation as an American genius is more reputation and style than actual accomplishment.
Just about everything about this movie is terrific, but a big impetus in setting it on a plateau is the music (Marc Marot as music supervisor with original score by Michael J. McEvoy; I’m not sure who picked the songs and the way they are played, which include Gershwin and Richard Rodgers, but I’m assuming it was Marot). The music carries this film aloft to heights of enjoyment few films achieve.
The story of Welles is told through the eyes of an enthusiastic teen, 17-year-old Richard Samuels (Zac Efron), who luckily lands a part in Welles’ first production for Mercury. As such he meets people like producer John Houseman (Eddie Marsan) and young actor Joseph Cotten (James Tupper), falls in love with Welles’ assistant, Sonja Jones (Claire Danes), and learns big lessons about life.
But, good as Efron is, this isn’t a story about Richard, it’s a story about Orson Welles, at the beginning of his life of fame and controversy. Although at 35 McKay is far too old to play the 1937 Welles (who was only 22 in 1937), he gives a bravura performance as a young man who seems in total control of everything. Unlike some other actors playing real people he doesn’t try to sound exactly like Orson, although there is a similarity. Instead, he recreates the man’s pompous personality, charm, and self-confidence.
The film’s presentation of that week of rehearsals, actors preparing for what became a memorable event, the way that Welles cajoled them into giving the performance he wanted, and the interplay among them all, is captivating. Because the film ignores his age, and because McKay looks like the 35-year-old man he is, it makes the viewing so much more enjoyable if one keeps in mind the tenderness of Welles’ actual years. Who he was, how he dominated, and what he accomplished at such a young age are truly extraordinary.
Welles used to eat lunch every day at Ma Maison restaurant on Melrose Avenue in Los Angeles. Ma Maison was such an “in” place that it had an unlisted number. But it was worth the trip (even if the food hadn’t been good, which it was) just to catch a glimpse of the rotund former prodigy. Orson had a presence and McKay captures it with effortless ease.
I had a friend who appeared as a guest with Welles on a Merv Griffin show. Despite his confident appearance, she told me that when she looked at him at one of the breaks his eyes were filled with fear. Maybe his ability to hide and channel fear validates his reputation as an exceptional actor.
The weakest part of the film is Danes, an actress I’ve admired for her performances in films like “Stage Beauty” (2004), “Evening” (2007) and “Stardust” (2007). In this, unlike the others, she misses the mark. She is far too effervescent and scintillating for the part she plays, an ambitious woman who eagerly succumbs to Welles’ exercising his droit du seigneur to get ahead. Most of the time when she was onscreen I found her unpersuasive.
But that is far outweighed by the ambience Linklater creates, and the performances of McKay and Efron. I could have watched another hour. In fact, the only reason I looked at my watch was to hope that the end wasn’t approaching. This is a film that will delight those who, like me, exult in the hesternal excitements of yesteryear.
Blog: NYC Movie Guru
Based on the novel by Robert Kaplow. In 1937, 17-year-old Richard Samuels (Zac Efron) bumps into theater director Orson Welles (Christian McKay) on the streets of New York City and gets cast as Lucius in his upcoming production of William Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar” at the Mercury Theatre. Richard has only one week of rehearsals left before opening night. During that week, he meets and falls in love with Sonja (Claire Danes), the theater’s manager and sex symbol who others, namely, Cotten (James Tupper), have been trying unsuccessfully to woo. When Welles isn’t behaving stubbornly, giving orders and making harsh, brutally honest criticisms during rehearsals, he’s arguing with his collaborator, John Houseman (Eddie Marsan). Zoe Kazan (Elia Kazan’s granddaughter) plays Gretta Adler, an aspiring writing and good friend of Richard’s, while Ben Chaplin shows up as an actor cast in the role of Mark Antony in the “Julius Caesar” production.
Out of all of the performances, the most radiant and captivating one happens Christian McKay’s in the complex role of Orson Welles. McKay nails all of Welles’ nuances, frustrations, charisma and moments of genius with utter conviction in such a way that’s never goes over-the-top. You might actually forget that you’re watching an actor playing Orson Welles and think that you’re watching the Orson Welles.
Zac Efron shows a modicum of charisma onscreen, but his character, Richard, remains not quite as interesting and well-written as Welles’s. His relationship with Gretta feels quite corny and contrived. However, when it comes to him and Sonja, it's easy to grasp what Sonja sees in him that would make her feel so comfortable to be around him, other than the fact that he doesn’t try to get in her pants right away like others have tried.
Director Richard Linklater includes a very authentic, impressive set design, costume design and a well-chosen, lively soundtrack that don’t seem out of place given the specific time period that the film takes place in. It’s also worth mentioning that co-screenwriters Holly Gent Palmo and Vince Palmo smoothly balance the dramatic and romantic moments with just the right sprinkle of humor and wit.
At a running time of 1 hour and 54 minutes, Me and Orson Welles manages to be thoroughly engaging, witty, charming and delightful. Christian McKay delivers a brilliant, utterly captivating and Oscar-worthy performance as Orson Welles.